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UN delegates call for urgent upgrade of Nairobi office

Saturday December 14 2019

Participants during a session at UN offices in Gigiri, Nairobi on May 24, 2016. More than 14,300 Kenyans die every year from health conditions which can be traced back to indoor air pollution, a new United Nations report has revealed. PHOTO | NGARE KARIUKI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Participants during a session at UN offices in Gigiri, Nairobi on May 24, 2016. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KEVIN J.  KELLEY
By KEVIN J. KELLEY
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New York/United Nations,

A Kenyan United Nations delegate on Friday lamented the “deteriorating conditions” at the UN Conference Centre in Nairobi and endorsed a top-level report outlining options for improving the facility.

Kenya was joined by a grouping of developing nations and by the Africa bloc at the UN in calling for the Nairobi centre to be upgraded to match the standards of the world body's offices in New York, Geneva and Vienna.

ANTIQUATED

The assessment of the facilities in Kenya's capital took place during a meeting of the UN's Administrative and Budgetary Committee. It advises the UN General Assembly on finance decisions. Committee delegates were considering a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that describes the centre in the Gigiri area as antiquated and inadequate for meetings of the UN's Environment Programme and Settlement Programme, both of which are based in Nairobi. Large gatherings related to the work of the two programmes are held in “substandard temporary rooms, which hampers negotiations,” Mr Guterres noted.

Built in the mid-1980s, the UN's Nairobi conference facilities are now “outdated and shabby from a look-and-feel perspective,” the secretary-general's report added.

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In his remarks at the committee's meeting in New York on Friday, Kenya's delegate warned that the UN risks “potential reputational loss” by continuing to host large-scale conferences in the “existing, ageing and inadequate facilities.”

UNSUSTAINABLE

Speaking on behalf of the group of 77 developing countries and China, the observer for Palestine noted that attendance at the UN Environment Assembly in March was more than double the Nairobi centre's 2000-person seating capacity.

The UN Office in Nairobi responded by holding sessions in converted corridors, walkways and car parks and by installing tents on the grounds of the complex, the Palestine speaker told the committee.

“This is unsustainable and creates unacceptable risk and additional cost,” he said. Botswana's delegate, speaking for the UN's Africa Group, called for investment in state-of-the-art technology at the Nairobi centre. Ten-year-old interpretation systems have been experiencing failures, he noted. The Administrative and Budgetary Committee should recommend expenditure of $470,000 (Sh47 million) in the coming year for studies of how to improve the Nairobi facilities, the secretary-general's report suggests.

8,000 PARTICIPANTS

Mr Guterres outlined two options for upgrades. The first would involve renovation and expansion of the existing conference centre and meeting rooms, along with construction of an adjacent plenary hall. This option would accommodate up to 8,000 participants in UN meetings in Nairobi, the report states.

A second possibility builds on the first and includes construction of a stand-alone conference centre on the periphery of the UN's Nairobi complex. This option would accommodate 12,000 delegates.